“If the black woman wasn’t born, she’d have to be invented.” -Nikki Giovanni
My grandmother was one of the most resourceful women that I have yet know, and have ever known. She showed me how to be resourceful and quiet–both valued personality traits. My grandmother died 3 years ago–4 months after I married my current husband.There is something stoic and beautiful about us as black women. We carry this mystique, this power, this ability to take up and make up space. We harness the sun, speak to rain and get (bleep) done!
Yet…we rarely get to be soft. We cry in showers, in bottles or in dark rooms that are filled with the presence and opulent omniscience of the Almighty. We dress up what is bleeding, silence the bruised and scattered to become expert in our own myth and legend. Black women are just damn majestic.
Yet…and still maintain a fought for humanity.
What I gleaned from my grandmother, whom I only saw cry once in the 32 years I had her, is that to be soft is rare for us as black women. Pain is what we burn as fuel to survive. We have grown accustom to the birth pangs of the ‘almost’ the ‘just might’ and above all ‘God gon handle it.’
We train our daughters to develop what I call ‘the anchor in your soul’ when our first tears are shed. We are told ‘save your tears for things that matter.’ My grandmother’s presence steadied me as I grew older, she was my benchmark to all I knew I could do and a fountain of wisdom I basked in. She was one of my heroes.
My father told me that my parental grandmother had 8 children, on a 3rd grade education with a husband that was a drunk and (to my immediate knowledge) may have been functionally illiterate. My maternal grandmother had 10, dealing with things that out of respect for her, my mother, and family I cannot reveal here. I saw my grandmother give all she had to all of us, the last of what she held fast to, she gave it to us. Selflessness is what us as black women do best…to the point it costs us our most precious possession: US.
We stop dreaming, we stop smiling, we turn in on ourselves until we get to a point where we are strangers in a familiar land. We morph in to these mountains oblivious to the waters that cut around them and through them. We allow ourselves to become these lighthouses for others, while trying to continue to give off our own light on both ends. We become alien to ourselves. When my grandmother’s health began to decline, to the point that she could no longer sew or garden, she said, “Why do I have to give up everything?”
When she died, I, being the writer, was charged to write her obituary. I didn’t want to, but, I showed up and was strong, just like I had been taught to be. Her entire life was compiled into 3 paragraphs about three-quarters of a page. Every secret she housed, went into the earth with her. The cool and dark, reclaiming the same rock she had become etched from.
I find myself at times catching glimpses of my grandmother, and mother, staring back at me as I primp and preen for the day afresh or taking off the armor of beauty given to the day in order to sleep. My mother told me that my eyes have ‘always sparkled’ and I still see that now. I wonder and watch for the the hard focus of those same brown eyes, and look at the slight darkening under them from sleepless nights. The smile that has fought back venom for man in favor of God and peace, the lips that whisper and kiss still supple to smile and laugh, have also swallowed tears. I look for the change.
I look for the physical moment my eyes no longer soften but remain sturdy and resolute–unmoved by what is around me, yet wise enough to know that it is. I believe in the the ability to be strong, it has sustained my family, and my people since our abduction to this land and our assimilation to it.
I know the lore that has followed the women in my family, the dual mythology that has constituted the origin of my ability, too, to breathe fire and walk through it. I am aware of their struggles, sacrifices and unseen tears. I am familiar with the need for their silence as well. That disquiet became normal and abhorrent to me. As a child when rolling that over in my clear mind, I was told to ‘keep living’ and I’ll ‘find out’.
The weapon we as black women have wielded for so long is that strength–goddess like–to overcome, come over, invade and be stunning while doing it. We are legend by blood, infused with ancestral wisdom and power being activated in times of trial, error, sorrow and panic. I, too, add to that royal blood with my own birth and that of my daughters. However, I am learning in caring for myself, is not a determent. Giving voice to my own needs, desires, wants and hopes is not selfish. Saying ‘no’ or “I will not” at times is a revolutionary act. Aurde Lorde said that we are given a little fire, and we must not lose it.
The Word of God tells is in the Book of Proverbs, that with all our getting, to get understanding. I know, now understand, the construction of that the facade of invincibility. This militant self-protection that allows us to become mother bears, lovers and friends. I understand how potent the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that the world hurls without hindsight or hesitation. I get it.
I also have come across another certain truth: sometimes our greatest weakness is admitting when we no longer can be strong. I am not willing to be consumed from essence to personality for the sake of preservation of invulnerability. I shall live, live excellent and be able to recognize the power my life and voice add to the world and those whom inhabit it.
I shall live.